Czechs to elect successor to Eurosceptic Klaus

Fri, Jan 11, 2013, 00:00

To what may be a collective sigh of relief from senior European Union officials, Czechs are to elect a successor to president Vaclav Klaus, one of the staunchest critics of moves to deepen European integration and boost the power of Brussels.

Today and tomorrow, voters in the country of 10½ million people will choose a replacement for Mr Klaus, who has served for almost a decade as president after previously occupying the posts of prime minister and finance minister. A run-off in a fortnight will probably decide the winner.

Along with his predecessor as head of state, the playwright-turned-politician Vaclav Havel, Mr Klaus dominated politics in the Czech Republic since it split with Slovakia 20 years ago this month.

An economic liberal who helped guide Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic through their transition to market economy, in recent years Mr Klaus has for many Czechs become a symbol of an arrogant and aloof political elite that has failed to root out cronyism and corruption. Abroad, he is best known for his stinging denunciations of Brussels and scepticism about global warming.

The two men most likely to succeed Mr Klaus (71) are unlikely to cause such consternation among the political or scientific establishment. Surveys ahead of the first direct election for a Czech president suggest that Milos Zeman (68) and Jan Fischer (62) will go through to a run-off. Both are former prime ministers.

Former communists

Both frontrunners are also former communists, but long ago moved towards the political centre, Mr Zeman remaining to the left while Mr Fischer occupies the centre-right.

They have pledged to try and unite Czechs if they become president, a role whose powers are restricted to the nomination or dismissal of the government, generals and judges, and include a veto on legislation and the selection of central bank officials. If surveys are accurate, the former premiers will be followed home in third place by the man who has provided most of the colour during the election race.

Vladimir Franz not only has an unusual resumé for a presidential candidate – being a drama professor, painter and composer and having no political experience – but a remarkable appearance, being covered head-to-toe in swirling, multi-coloured tattoos.

“The world of art gives you the capacity to speak authentically about things, you’re not infected with the news-speak that people are so fed up with these days,” said Mr Franz (53).

Czechs, he explained, “are fed up with this crap”.